Congress extends martial law in Mindanao until end of 2017

MANILA (Updated) -- The Philippine Congress has extended martial law in Mindanao for another five months, or until December 31, to authorize government forces to enforce continued offensives against the Maute terror group in Marawi City.

During the special joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Saturday, July 22, around 261 lawmakers voted in favor of the martial law extension and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the south.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said 16 senators voted in affirmative, while only four rejected the proposed five-month extension.

Among the senators who voted yes were:

* Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara
* Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito
* Francis Escudero
* Sherwin Gatchalian
* Richard Gordon
* Gringo Honasan
* Panfilo Lacson
* Loren Legarda
* Manny Pacquiao
* Aquilino Pimentel III
* Grace Poe
* Ralph Recto
* Vicente Sotto III
* Joel Villanueva
* Cynthia Villar
* Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri

Those who voted no were Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan.

In the House of Representatives, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said President Rodrigo Duterte's proposal was approved by 245 lawmakers, while 14 voted against it. No one abstained.

The martial law proclamation, which was supposed to end Saturday, July 22, was made on May 23 after government troops, who were supposed to arrest international terrorist Isnilon Hapilon, encountered the Maute group in Marawi City.

Authorities said the Maute bandits also stormed Marawi in an attempt to establish the city as a caliphate of Islamic State fighters in Southeast Asia. The Marawi crisis entered its 60th day Saturday.

Duterte cited Section 18, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution in declaring the martial rule.

Section 18, Article 7 of the Constitution states that the President has the power to declare martial law, in the case of invasion or rebellion, for a period not exceeding 60 days. Such proclamation can either be revoked or extended for a period determined by Congress through joint voting.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff General Eduardo Año, martial law implementor, admitted that he recommended the extension of martial law.

During the interpellation Saturday, Año said he made the recommendation to ensure that there will be "no repeat of Marawi siege in the future."

"All of us in the military organization, our only desire is to finish this crisis the soonest time possible," he said.

'Haven for terrorists'

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana when asked by Senator Drilon to give them a briefing admitted that the request for the 150-day extension of martial law is to ensure that the country will not become a haven for terrorists.

Lorenzana said that it is needed to fight the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), known to be in the kidnapping business for a long time and victimizing foreign tourists and beheading them if they failed to pay their ransom.

Lorenzana, who is the martial administrator, identified the rebel groups as the ASG based in Basilan and Jolo; the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) in Central Mindanao; and the Maute Group believed to be Daesh-inspired group in Mindanao, as well as the New People's Army, who are taking advantage of this situation; and those operating illegal drugs in the whole region that are reportedly financing the ongoing war in Mindanao.

"We need some leeway to finish our job. We need to take decisive steps to eliminate this nefarious threat, destroy their resource channels from illicit drugs and other crimes and ensure that Mindanao will be a safe place for our people," Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said that if the martial law will not be extended, the possibility of another recruitment and reinforcement will build up if the Marawi crisis will not be addressed thoroughly.

He said it will be an unfinished business that will result in higher risk of violent attacks in other areas in the Philippines.

Senator Honasan, a former soldier, who voted in favor of the 150-day extension of martial law in Mindanao, said that while martial law places many lives in jeopardy, the other side of the coin is terrorism which is worse and is now a reality that the country cannot deny.

"Who is the enemy? It is reflected in the new dimension of warfare. Let us resolve this issue as fast and as far as our laws will allow,"
Honasan said.

Honasan said that it is the power of Congress to make sure that there will be no abuse of power through proper monitoring by Congress.

In a letter addressed to Congress, Duterte explained that martial law in Mindanao needs to be extended because the "existing rebellion in Mindanao will not be quelled completely until 22nd of July."

"There's a looming situation in Mindanao, which needs to be completely and totally addressed," Duterte said in his letter.

Lorenzana said that some foreign terror groups are well prepared to give reinforcement and they are just waiting for the right timing to do this.

"Hindi po natin pababayaan na lumakas silang muli. This is the reason why we asked President Duterte for an extension of Martial Law. Terrors groups are prepared to support rebels in Marawi," he said.

"Out of the 279 personalities to be apprehended, only 12 have been neutralized and detained," Lorenzana said during the joint session of Congress.

60-day extension

During the joint session, Drilon questioned the coverage and period of extension of martial law when it was already declared that the government has managed to clear most parts of Marawi city already in two months.

With the government claiming that 379 of 600 Daesh rebels were neutralized in less than 60 days of martial law, Drilon said that more than 50 percent have been neutralized in less than two months.

Drilon had later on proposed an extension period of only 60 days, which was defeated by voting by the Senate delegation to the joint session.

"The Constitution requires an actual rebellion or invasion to justify martial law. And if you say that the extension is to quell possible acceleration of the dangers of rebellion, that is not actual and is not stated in the present Constitution," Drilon said as he proposed that extension be reduced to 60 days and not until December 31 of this year.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea maintained the government is apprehending connectors to the rebellion.

"This is the first time we encountered such a situation wherein civilians are being forced to fight. It would be better if we ask for a longer period than ask for a shorter period, then ask for an extension again," Medialdea said.

The executive secretary said the martial law should still cover the entire Mindanao as the extremists and their sympathizers may launch diversionary attacks in other parts of the region.

"We cannot foresee the location where they are going. Even in Inabanga, Bohol which is already part of Visayas," Medialdea said.

He also explained that the NPA as one of the targets is only incidental part of the operation.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. explained that without the power of martial law, they will need to go to court before they can make any apprehension to these suspects.

"We need to go to court to apply before we can do action. We cannot control movement on the ground and limitation of movement will hamper our goal and time is of the essence where lives are involved," Esperon explained.

Esperon further said that the present implementation of martial law is different from the past considering that they are not shutting down operations of local officials and normal operations of government to serve the people were being allowed and respected.

"The present martial law is here that is meant to protect the people of Mindanao," Esperon said.

Esperon insisted that the extension of martial law will be needed to quell, degrade their capabilities, and contain the Daesh inspired ISIS linked rebel elements.

ACT party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said half a million affected Marawi residents wants to rebuild their lives and are suffering in various evacuation areas.

Esperon said this is precisely the reason why the executive chief is asking for an extension as they were focusing on rebuilding Marawi and that include rehabilitation recovery through the help of various government agencies.

"We want to address where this financial support is coming from. We want to know their financiers. Peace is our main goal here," Esperon said.

For his part, Lorenzana assured that they are already preparing different programs that will help in the rehabilitation of Marawi and already coordinating with other organizations to make this possible.

"Mismong ang President po ang naglalaan na ng tamang funds para sa rehabilitation and development ng Marawi at marami pang areas na dapat pagtuunan," Lorenzana said.

He also assured Senator Pangilinan that martial law will not be extended in Luzon and Visayas.

"Kaya naman buong Mindanao para we will not be hindered, para pwede kaming humabol sa kanila kahit saan sila pumunta because the possibility for them to find a place where they can hide is there," Lorenzana told Pangilinan.

Earlier, Senator Pangilinan expressed fears that the martial law may be expanded throughout the country. Lorenzana positively said that this is not the intention and that this will not happen.

Zamboanga City Representative Cesar Lobregat asked whether it is true that they were able to capture new recruits.

Armed Forces Chief Año confirmed this report as he divulged that they were able to capture one of the kids who admitted that about 96 young men were trained to continue this fight in Marawi.

Lobregat, who said that Zamboanga has not been restored yet, said if only the former administration declared martial law during Zamboanga siege, it would have made a difference as he urged his colleagues in Congress to give President Duterte the extension of martial law.


The joint session of Congress on Saturday was briefly interrupted after a small group of anti-martial law protesters chanted "never again, never again, never again to martial law" while Alliance of Concerned Teachers Party-list Representative Antonio Tiño interpellated Lorenzana.

The group was escorted out the session hall and brought to the Quezon City Police Office in Camp Karingal.

Outside of the Batasan Pambansa complex, a small group of protesters marched to the Batasan Complex to express their disapproval on the extension of martial law until the end of December 2017.

Dana Beltran, media liaison of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the extension of martial law is not the answer to the current armed conflict in Mindanao.

"Hindi siya nakakatulong sa sitwasyon dahil iilan na lang ang sinusugpo nilang Maute at dahil airstrikes parin ang pinupukol nila. Kasabay pa noon, hindi lang ang Marawi ang apektado dito kundi ang buong Mindanao," she said.

Beltran said they will continue their protest on Monday, July 24, during Duterte's second State of the Nation Address. (With Glaiza Jarloc/SunStar Philippines)
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